By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Konawaena senior Zane Gray’s best sport is baseball. He’s got several college scholarship offers on the table. But on Friday night, he made shooting a basketball look as easy as apple pie.
Gray sparked a 3-point shooting barrage as Kona hammered Hilo 68-42 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I basketball semifinals before a crowd of over 2,000 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
The Wildcats clinched a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, which runs Feb. 19-22 on Oahu.
Brandon Awa, who had several layups, including a twisting old-school 360-degree drop-in, led the way with 15 points. But when a scoring spark was needed, Gray, who added 12 points, passed the hot-shooting baton to his teammates in a fantastic third quarter.
That’s when the No. 1 seed Wildcats knocked down 5 of 6 from beyond the arc to take a 58-33 cushion into the fourth quarter. Gray sank the first and closing 3-pointers during a key 17-3 third-quarter run.
For the game, the ‘Cats converted a smoking 55 percent (24 of 44) from the field, including 7 of 16 on 3-pointers. That hotness canceled the coldness from the free-throw line, where Kona made just 11 of 24; Hilo was 13 of 16 on free throws.
The season is over for the No. 4 Vikings (6-6), who bid goodbye to three senior starters in Jalen Carvalho, Austin Dante and AJ Matsumoto.
“They were hot, give them credit they were ready to play,” Hilo coach Chuck Vallero said. “I thought we could have been a little bit better. We had a really good practice on Thursday. We came out a little flat. They deserve it. They’re a good team.”
During the regular season, Kona beat Hilo 65-59 on Jan. 15 at home. The one-two guard punch of Awa and Chase Takaki led the way with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Carvalho had 26 points and Dante added 19 points. The difference was the Wildcats had a third scoring threat in Jonah Bredeson, who had 15 points.
Almost a month later in a do-or-die semifinal game, Pookela Hanato-Smith front-guarded Carvalho, who struggled to find his shot and was held to 14 points on 3 of 11 shooting. Hanato-Smith had six points and Takaki offered more balance with 10 points.
Dante slashed for scores, picked up Hilo’s scoring slack and provided a valuable 16 points. Matsumoto contributed seven points but other than those three, with Carvalho, Hilo had limited scoring options, a major reason for a 25 percent (13 of 52) shooting clip.
“We executed really well this game, better than we have all season. We knew Jalen and Audie were their big threats and Po did a good job shutting Jalen down,” Gray said. “We tried to play solid D and not get into foul trouble. It was our first game in a long time we’ve shot this well. Our coaches did a great job preparing us for this game. Our practices were really hard. We were really prepared for this game.
“Getting Jalen in foul trouble early in the game (three fouls by the second quarter) helped us. He’s a great scorer from anywhere on the court. If you put anybody on him, and if he’s on no one is stopping him and Audie is great at penetrating the paint. I’m glad we came out and played team basketball like we wanted to. It’s nice to finally get it done like how we wanted to. We’ve been struggling all year, getting seven points, eight points in a quarter. Tonight we were just on. That was pretty much it. We were just on.”
Kona led 33-20 at halftime and came out of the break firing from long distance. It all started in the third quarter when Gray buried a 3-pointer for a 42-28 lead with 4:32 left. Then Dante countered with a trey.
From there, the Wildcats reloaded, found their aim again and turned into a Miley Cyrus song — Can’t stop, won’t stop making 3-pointers.
Awa had a 3-pointer, Cameron Howes followed with a trey, Kevin Medeiros had a 3-pointer, and Awa broke the pattern with a layup. Finally, Gray added his second and last 3-pointer for a 25-point cushion with 1:07 to go in the third quarter.
“Execution-wise running our sets offensively and defensively this was by far our best game of the year,” Kona coach Donny Awa said. “You can’t shut Jalen down. He can get a shot over Po but he wasn’t hitting it. That was a big key. You try making him work as hard as he can and not get anything easy. Once he’s in the air, I don’t have anybody who can jump high enough to mess with his shot. You just have to do your job on the ground, get a hand up and box him out.
“The third quarter was one of those quarters I guess. But we were moving the ball and they were wide-open shots, not like we had a hand in our face. We’ve never had a quarter like that, and everybody was hitting, so it was kind of nice. The whole bench was jumping up and down. It was fun.”
It was fun for Gray, who had a big smile on his face as if he hit a bunch of home runs. Last season, he was named to the All-BIIF Division II baseball first team at first base for the runner-up Wildcats. In his youth, he played on Awa’s Kona Stingrays club team, so basketball is in his blood.
“I love Zane as a shooting guard. He’s a good shooter and he got good looks. He played hard tonight and that carried over to his offense,” Awa said. “I’m glad he came out for basketball. He played with me in middle school. Brandon, Po and Zane were on a travel team and I’m glad he came out for his senior year. I’m sure he’s not regretting it.”
Hilo 11 9 13 9 — 42
Kona 19 14 25 10 — 68